Monday, June 23, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 8: Do What’s You

One of the greatest costs of addiction is the way it dehumanizes us. After all, free will is the very essence of what makes us human. Addiction interferes with our capacity to exercise our will, locking us instead in a pattern of succumbing to our baser, animalistic urges. Human dignity goes out the window. Our infinite potential goes wasted, as we slavishly chase this way and that at the dictates of our appetites and cravings.

Are You Being Yourself?

If you’re still to some degree in love with your addiction, it may be eye-opening to ask yourself these questions: When you’re in hot pursuit of pleasure in that realm, is the way you’re living unique to you as an individual? Or could you be interchangeable with any other human being—or even various members of the animal kingdom? If so, isn’t it about time you rose above the reptiles?

Our addictive behaviors are like the jerks of our knee when the patellar tendon is struck with a mallet. They tend to be tired, uninspired, and generic. As we do one more internet search for porn or tip another tall one back, we're indistinguishable from millions of other people throughout the history of the world who've done the very same thing in the very same way. Is there anything original about the way I overeat or yell at my kids? Stop the scene and insert another actor. We don't bring anything to those activities that no one else could. This is how addiction insults our dignity and robs us of our humanity.

We weaken the hold of addiction whenever we show up for life and bring our unique flair to whatever we're doing. They broke the mold after they made you, right? So act like it! Do something only you can do. I'm not talking about climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel. We can let our personality shine even when we're doing the simplest of tasks.

Identify What Sets You Apart

Stephen Covey recommends exploring your vision and values:
  • What do you love to do? 
  • When are you at your best? 
  • What are your unique talents and gifts? 
  • If you had unlimited time and resources and knew you couldn’t fail, what would you choose to do? 
  • If your life is an epic journey with you as the hero/heroine, what is your journey about--what are you doing, who is it for, why are you doing it? 
  • What will your most important contribution be to the most important people in your life?
Fast forward to your 80th birthday. Imagine that you couldn't be happier with the way your life's gone from now until then. Now imagine that you overhear a few of the conversations going on at the party. What are two or three of the adjectives you hope people will use to describe you and the way you lived? “She was so much fun.” “He was so thoughtful.” “She was so dedicated to our cause.”

Now imagine that your visitors start telling stories about actions of yours they witnessed that demonstrate those qualities. And, lo and behold, the incident they're talking about was something you did in the next week or two during a time when you were feeling the pull of your addiction, but decided to do something more personally meaningful instead.

"I remember walking out after taking the doctor's office, turning on my phone, and finding a text from him asking me how it had gone." "I remember her sharing with me some of her beautiful photographs." "I remember when a huge group of us were walking into the building and he stood patiently and held the door for everyone else in line."

Play the Value Menu Game

In the heat of a tempting moment, it’s hard to come up with some creative alternative to acting out. Your Value Menu can be a sort of “cheat sheet” for times like that, full of value-based gratifications that will help make your days richer and your life more fulfilling.

Create Your Value Menu
  1. Down the left margin or column of your Value Menu, list several qualities you want to epitomize. These are values and personality traits that set you apart and make you who you are--or ones you’d like to develop. Sit and ponder the questions above by Stephen Covey until you have a list of at least five or six.
  2. To the right of each quality, list a few activities--or even brief gestures--that demonstrate or cultivate that quality. 
Want to be someone who's respectful? Take the time to learn and use all your coworkers names. Spontaneous? Brainstorm some everyday adventures you take off on with your family. Playful? Help your nephew and his friends set up a fun obstacle course. Appreciative? Start a list of people in your life who deserve thank you notes and watch for snippets of time throughout the week when you can work on writing and sending them.

Developing a Value Menu is a process, not an event. Keep brainstorming and adding activities as you come up with more. Over time it will become a document that is very personal and meaningful to you.

Use Your Value Menu

You can use your Value Menu at any time. In particular: when a craving hits, pick something off the Menu and do it. But even on those days when enjoying relative freedom from unwanted urges, don’t forget to pick an activity and do it.

Don’t try to jump all the way from tempted to saintly. Sure, if kindness is your value, then on a day when you have more time you might go give blood or help organize the shelves at the food bank. But on a day when you’re struggling and don’t have much energy, at least pause to hug your daughter and kiss her on the forehead first thing when you get home.

Relish the Results

Who knows, maybe the very daughter you start hugging and kissing this week will be the one at your 80th birthday party who says, "She was so supportive. One afternoon when I was 11, she started hugging me and kissing me on the forehead. After that, I got a hug from her every afternoon when she got home from work. It couldn't have come at a better time. That affection from my mom helped me get through the next three years, which were the hardest of my life."

Don't be surprised if you receive feedback like that. When thoughtful care and conscious intention infuse your actions, when you "do what's you" instead of mindlessly repeating a compulsion, it’s not uncommon for others to see your actions as inspired.

Would it mean less to your daughter if she knew that the hug and kiss were a real stretch for you at first? That it started out only because you valued her and did it as part of an exercise, rather than flowing from your natural affection? That at the time you felt more like compulsively shopping online than taking that time to show her love? To me, it means even more. Actions like these are more dignified when our heart's not quite in them--and even more when they’re a huge stretch. Anyone can do what they feel like doing. What's really admirable is demanding something higher from ourselves when we could so easily do what's familiar and easy.

Challenge for the Week: Create and Start Using Your Own Value Menu

Before you create your own, it may help to see an example of what a Value Menu looks like. My client, Merideth, gave me permission to share hers with you. Check hers out, then use the blank one below to create your own. Then, most importantly, take some opportunities this week, including when you feel tempted, to start using it.

Sample Value Menu

VALUE                                    ACTIVITY (Requires S=Seconds, M=Minutes, H=Hours, D=Days)

Adventurous,                           D: Pack up on Friday and head out of town for the weekend
Spontaneous                           H: Go do a service project on a whim
                                                H: Take a ski day, go golfing, fly fishing, take canyoneering class
                                                M: Learn online about hikes I want to take

Musical                                    S: Sing to my kids, in the shower, or in the car
                                                H: Practice our choir pieces
                                                M: Pop in a Andre Rieu DVD
                                                D: Attend convention; take music appreciation class

Outdoorsy                               M: Watch the clouds
                                                S: Appreciate trees, mountains or sky as I walk or drive around
                                                S: Gaze out the window at work or at home
                                                D: Plan a trip to the coast or other bird watching trip
                                                M: Plant bulbs

Supportive,                              H: Take my cousin or a friend to lunch
Loving                                     S: Text friend or sibling to check in about something in their life
                                                M: Put $10 gas in son’s car
                                                M: Call sister who’s struggling
                                                S: Hold the door open for people

Creative                                  H: Learn how to make cheese
                                                M: Go out in the garage and weld something
                                                M: Write poetry
                                                M: Tell tall tales to my kids

Appreciative                            M: List others’ acts of kindness and write them thank you notes
                                                S: Count blessings
                                                M: Practice gratitude meditation or take a “gratitude walk”

Physically Fit                           M: Go running; sign up for a race
                                                S: Take the stairs
                                                M: Look for recipes and make healthy meals

Diligent,                                   M: Spend a half hour making sales calls
Hard Worker                           H: Organize bookkeeping for the business
                                                M: Arrive at work five minutes early
                                                M: Return calls within a 24 hours

Your Value Menu

VALUE                                    ACTIVITY (Requires S=Seconds, M=Minutes, H=Hours, D=Days)








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